Sub Pop

Sub Pop

Infobox record label
name = Sub Pop Records

image_bg =
parent =
founded = 1986
founder = Bruce Pavitt Jonathan Poneman
defunct =
distributor =
genre = Alternative rock Grunge Indie rock
country = United States
location = Seattle, Washington
url =

Sub Pop is an independent record label (though funded and sharing distribution outlets with Warner Music) founded by Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman in Seattle, Washington in 1986. Sub Pop achieved fame in the late 1980s for first signing Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and many other bands from the Seattle music scene. They are often credited with taking the first steps toward popularizing grunge music, and have continued to achieve critical and commercial success in the new millennium, with popular bands such as The Postal Service and The Shins on their roster. In 1995 Poneman sold a 49% stake in the company to Warner Bros. Records. [ [ Sub Pop Oral History: "Going Out of Business Since 1988!" :: ] ]



Sub Pop evolved from a fanzine Bruce Pavitt created called "Subterranean Pop". Pavitt worked on the fanzine, which focused exclusively on American independent record label, to earn course credit while attending Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. By the fourth issue, Pavitt shortened the name to "Sub Pop" and began alternating issues with compilation tapes of underground rock bands. The "Sub Pop #5" cassette, released in 1982, sold two thousand copies. [Azerrad, p. 413] In 1983, Pavitt moved to Seattle, Washington and released the ninth and final issue of "Sub Pop". While in Seattle, Pavitt wrote a column for local newspaper "The Rocket" titled "Sub Pop U.S.A." [Azerrad, p. 414]

In 1986, Pavitt released the first Sub Pop LP, the compilation "Sub Pop 100", which featured material by artists including Sonic Youth, Naked Raygun, The Wipers, and Scratch Acid. Seattle group Green River chose to record the "Dry as a Bone" EP for Pavitt's new label in June 1986; Pavitt couldn't afford to release it until the following year. When finally released, "Dry as a Bone" was promoted by Sub Pop as "ultra-loose GRUNGE that destroyed the morals of a generation". [Azerrad, p. 420] Also in 1987, Jonathan Poneman provided $20,000 in funding for Sub Pop to release the debut Soundgarden single "Hunted Down"/"Nothing to Say" in July 1987, followed by the band's first EP "Screaming Life" that October. [Azerrad, p. 422] Poneman soon became a full partner in the label. Pavitt focused on the label's A&R aspects, while Poneman dealt with the business and legal issues. [Azerrad, p. 423] Both men decided they wanted the label to focus on "this primal rock stuff that was coming out", according to Pavitt. [Azerrad, p. 423-24]

The "Seattle sound"

In early 1988 Pavitt and Poneman quit their jobs to devote their time to Sub Pop. Raising $43,000, they incorporated that April. "Of course that was spent in, like, thirty days", Pavitt recalled. "We almost went bankrupt after a month". [Azerrad, p. 425] That August Sub Pop released the first single by Mudhoney, a band featuring former members of Green River. Sub Pop released the Mudhoney single "Touch Me I'm Sick" in an intentionally limited first pressing of 800 copies to create demand. The strategy was later adopted by other independent labels. [Azerrad, p. 426-27]

Pavitt and Poneman studied earlier independent labels ranging from Motown to SST Records and decided that virtually every successful movement in rock music had a regional basis. The pair sought to create a cohesive brand identity for Sub Pop. The label's ads promoted the label itself more than any particular band. The label also sought to market a "Seattle sound", which was accomplished with the help of producer Jack Endino, who produced 75 singles, albums, and EPs for Sub Pop between 1987 and 1989. Endino recorded cheaply and quickly; in order to operate this way, he utilized some consistent studio techniques, which gave the records a similar sound. [Azerrad, p. 436]

In November 1988 Sub Pop released "Love Buzz", the debut single by Aberdeen, Washington band Nirvana, as the first entry in the Sub Pop Singles Club, a subscription service that would allow subscribers to receive singles by the label on a monthly basis by mail. At its peak in 1990, the club had two thousand subscribers. [Azerrad, p. 439] The club made Sub Pop a powerful force in the Seattle scene, and effectively made the label's name synonymous with the music of the Seattle area (much in the same way Motown Records was to Detroit), and helped to secure the label's cashflow.Jelbert, Steve (2008) "Labelled With Love", The Times, August 2 2008] The original series was discontinued in 1993, followed by "Singles Club V.2", launched in 1998 and discontinued in 2002. [cite web | title = Singles Club V.2 is Dead 2002 | publisher = Sub Pop Records | url = | accessdate = 2006-11-24]

Mindful that garnering the attention of the American mainstream music press was difficult for all but the largest indie label, Pavitt and Ponemen took inspiration from alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, and Dinosaur Jr. and sought to publicize the label via the British music press. In March 1989, Pavitt and Poneman flew "Melody Maker" journalist Everett True to Seattle to write an article on the local music scene. As Pavitt had anticipated, the British press became enamoured with Sub Pop and the grunge sound. Pavitt said, "I really felt that the Brits and the Europeans wanted to see something that was unruly and that was more of an American archetype -- something that was really primal and really drew from the roots of rock & roll, which was very American." [Azerrad, p. 441] Poneman explained the label's success:"It could have happened anywhere, but there was a lucky set of coincidences. Charles Peterson was here to document the scene, Jack Endino was here to record the scene. Bruce and I were here to exploit the scene."

When Nirvana moved to Geffen Records, Sub Pop received royalties from sales of "Nevermind" that kept the label going for years afterwards. After the mainstream success of Nirvana, many successful grunge bands had left Sub Pop for major record labels. Soon afterwards, a joint venture was formed with Warner Bros. Records.

Pavitt's departure

Poneman and Pavitt had a disagreement about the direction the label should take, with Poneman wanting the label to become larger and more financially successful. In 1996, unable to take the new corporate culture following the Warner partnership, Bruce Pavitt left the label to spend more time with his family. [ [ Sub Pop Oral History: "Going Out of Business Since 1988!" :: ] ]

The label opened offices worldwide and began major investment in new artists, but without achieving great commercial success, prompting a scaling down and a return to Seattle.

In 2006, Sub Pop Records became the first Green-e certified record label. Through work with the Green-e program and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Sub Pop "greened" their label by purchasing enough renewable energy certificates to offset 100 percent of the electricity they use in their office, showing their commitment to putting renewable energy in the mainstream as a way consumers can take action to do something about global warming. [cite web|url=|title=Green-e certification (press release)|date=July 31, 2006|accessdate=2007-12-07|publisher=Bonneville Environmental Foundation]

In early 2007, Sub Pop started a sister label by the name of Hardly Art. [ [ Sub Pop Launches New Label, Hardly Art | Pitchfork ] ] [ [ Sub Pop Launches Hardly Art Imprint ] ] This label is also partially owned by Warner Music. In August 2008, Sub Pop relaunched the singles club for one year to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. [cite web | title = Sub Pop Singles Club 3.0 | publisher = Sub Pop Records | url = | accessdate = 2008-07-03]

Commercial Success

Sub Pop has one platinum record, Nirvana's "Bleach", and two gold records, The Postal Service's "Give Up" and The Shins' "Wincing the Night Away". The Shins' "New Slang" has gone gold digitally, and The Postal Service's digital single for "Such Great Heights" has also gone platinum. On January 31, 2007, Sub Pop announced that The Shins' third full-length for Sub Pop, "Wincing the Night Away", debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts, reporting first week sales of 117,991 (35K in digital sales). This is the first time any album in Sub Pop history has ever charted in the top ten or broken 100,000 in the first week of sales.

ee also

*List of artists who have worked with Sub Pop


*Azerrad, Michael. "Our Band Could Be Your Life". Little, Brown and Company, 2001. ISBN 0-316-78753-1



* [ Information on SubPop and Warner Music Group's partnership in the Alternative Distribution Alliance]

ee also

* List of record labels

External links

* [ Official Sub Pop site] .
* [ A Record Collector's Guide to Sub Pop Vinyl]
* [ Reviews, interviews, & podcasts of Sub Pop bands] on Three Imaginary Girls.

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